B-W Game: QB Race Still Wide Open

Steven Bench

Bench and Ferguson are "neck and neck" was the prevailing theme in the media room after the two quarterbacks posted similar numbers in Saturday's Blue-White Game.

If you were attempting to gain some clarity of Penn State's quarterback situation, Saturday's Blue-White Game was the wrong place to look.

You're shocked, I'm sure.

Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson were both 9-for-15. Bench threw for 99 yards, Ferguson 90. Ferguson threw for two touchdowns, Bench one. Ferguson took three of the nine sacks recorded by the defense, Bench two.

“They're about neck and neck,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said.

“Eventually I have to make a decision,” coach Bill O'Brien said, “but I'm not ready to make that right now.”

What O'Brien did say is that he will go back and evaluate all the video shot of the QBs this spring, by himself, so that he has a better idea of whether either guy has a leg up on the other.

In the meantime, it is important for all of us to remember that the Blue-White Game -- a 67-47 victory for the defense Saturday, by the way -- was just one of 15 practices this spring, just a small slice of the evaluation process. It's also important to remember that the game was televised on the Big Ten Network, so the Lions were not about to reveal any strategic wrinkles, not about to alert the rest of the conference as to which QB does what better.

And it's not like the Blue-White Game has ever been the greatest barometer of, well, anything. If it were, Deron Thompson would now be on the Heisman watchlist.

One last thing about the QB competition: It figures to take another turn when highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg arrives on campus this summer. (He was present Saturday, but only as an observer.)

So there was less here than meets the eye, and there is much more to be determined. Certainly nobody in the interview room seemed interested in providing much insight about the duel between Bench, a sophomore-to-be from Georgia, and Ferguson, a junior-college transfer from California.

Neither of the principals was made available to reporters, and others trotted out these gems:

Tight end Brent Wilkerson: “They're both working hard. They're hitting the books. I can't go much farther than that. They're working hard. They're competing. That's what we want.”

Center Ty Howle: “Both guys came in this spring and learned a lot. They're taking control out there, being generals. … They're both doing a great job out there. … They get equal reps, equal everything else. It's great to see them progress.”

Tackle Donovan Smith: “I'm not a quarterback guy. My job is just to block for them, and allow them to do the best they can do.”

And, once more, there was this from Robinson, the Big Ten's top receiver last year: “Both do a good job of being in command of the huddle.”

And: “Both have big arms. There's not too much of a difference.”

And: “I've built chemistry with both quarterbacks. I'm just going to try to continue to build chemistry with both guys.”

Stop. Just make him stop.

O'Brien, for his part, said both guys had good and bad moments in the game. (Again, you are no doubt shocked.) Ferguson's two touchdown passes came on a 27-yard fade pattern to tight end Jesse James in the second quarter -- a play on which freshman cornerback Jordan Smith slipped and fell -- and a five-yarder to Richy Anderson in the fourth.

The latter was a particularly impressive throw, as Ferguson rolled right and zipped a pass into a tight window. And it did seem that if he held the ball too long early in the scrimmage (and that his delivery was somewhat elongated), he was more decisive as the day wore on.

O'Brien said his adjustment has been impressive in a larger sense, too.

“He came here, sight unseen,” he said. “He put his stuff in a suitcase and trusted he was doing the right thing for him.”

“As a team,” Robinson said, “we've tried to take him under our wing. He's definitely gotten acclimated with the team.”

O'Brien likewise praised Bench for the adjustment he made last year from the Deep South to Happy Valley. Bench received precious little meaningful time as the freshman backup to Matt McGloin in 2012, and on Saturday he threw a six-yard scoring pass to Wilkerson in the third quarter.

All of which means … what?

It was once said that the Blue-White Game raises more questions than it answers, and that was again the case Saturday. O'Brien did say that he is a one-quarterback guy, that there will be no platoon or anything like that.

So there is a decision ahead. There would not appear to be a frontrunner, though. Not yet.

All we have is this: Thompson for Heisman. Catch the fever.

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